According to a recent BBC article, What should be done about plastic bags?, in a consultation carried out by the European Union in 2011, more than half of the 15,000 people questioned favoured an outright ban on plastic bags. Over 800,000 tonnes of single-use plastic bags are used in the EU every year and over 4 billion are thrown away. These figures are pretty awe-inspiring and appear to speak for themselves but I’m not sure a ban is the best way forward.
A number of countries have taken steps to reduce the use of plastic bags or get rid of them altogether. Italy, Rwanda and Somalia have imposed total bans and the United Arab Emirates and Tanzania have imposed partial bans. Closer to home, the Republic of Ireland introduced a ‘bag tax’ in March 2002. Plastic bag litter immediately dropped 95% and in the first year following the tax, 90% of shoppers switched to using long-life bags.
Wales also introduced a bag tax in 2011 and Northern Ireland is bringing one in in 2013. The BBC has reported that six months since the introduction of a minimum 5p charge per bag that supermarkets in Wales have seen a reduction in their use of up to 90%.
A number of European countries will soon follow suit, including Belgium, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. Presumably a ban in England would prove popular yet it is worth remembering that the production of bags of any kind has an environmental impact.
When you compare the resources that are used in manufacturing different types of bag, a paper bag has to be used three times or more to have the same carbon footprint as a plastic bag – used less than three times its carbon footprint is bigger. A plastic ‘bag for life’ also has to be used at least three times to equate and a cotton bag has to be used 131 times (assuming that the plastic bag is only used once, otherwise the number of uses required goes up).
To be honest it can get confusing. Often a paper bag will serve a very different purpose to say a cotton bag and this should to be taken into consideration. For us the mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is common sense and applies to plastic bags as much as other household items. Very thin plastic bags are not as strong as long-life bags, don’t last, get blocked in waterways and are not often recycled. We always encourage companies to have bespoke long-life bags to enhance their brand and support the R’s.
Depending on a business’ requirements, ecobags can be made from environmentally friendly jute, woven or non-woven PP (polypropylene), cotton or rPET (made from recycled plastic bottles), all of which can be used hundreds of times, promoting the company with each use.
What would you do about plastic bags? Are you in favour of an outright ban or would you prefer to see a bag tax or more recycling? If you’ve got any comments, please feel free to leave them below.
Smart Bags is an active member of Ethical Junction, learn more